Calorie-laden chocolate bars, bags of salty chips, and sugary packages of candy. When the afternoon slump hits city workers in San Francisco, some folks head to vending machines to pick up a snack. But should people working or visiting the Department of Public Health be able to buy an unhealthy treat? If a proposal from a local politician gains traction, folks looking to purchase junk food on city property might soon be out of luck.
On Tuesday, Mark Farrell, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, plans to introduce legislation banning high-sodium or calorie-laden items from about 150 vending machines in city-owned spaces. That includes offices and San Francisco International Airport. The proposed legislation will prohibit prepackaged items that contain more than 200 calories per serving or have more than 240 milligrams of sodium. High-sugar and -fat items will also be forbidden. Foods with more than 35 percent of calories or more than 35 percent of weight from added sugar won't be allowed.
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The proposal is geared to ensuring that “San Francisco and our residents in general are making a move to more healthy lifestyles and options. We want to lead by example and make the healthy choice the easy choice for residents," Jess Montejano, a legislative aide for Farrell's office, told TakePart.
Montejano acknowledged that the legislation may be perceived by some as evidence of San Francisco further becoming a nanny state, given several recent prohibitions that have been enacted. Last year officials banned chewing tobacco at sports venues in the city and passed legislation requiring health warnings about obesity and tooth decay on billboards and other ads for soda on city property starting July 25.
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However, Montejano said people have to remember that the policy on vending machines doesn’t target anything in the private sector. “People can still go to their local liquor store or local corner and buy a chocolate bar,” said Montejano. Encouraging city employees and visitors to make better choices would also be a boon to the city’s budget. “Healthier lifestyles lower chronic health conditions, which is a savings to taxpayers,” he said.
Half of all adults in the U.S. have chronic conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 90 percent of all health care costs in 2010 went to care for folks with those kinds of diseases. It’s no wonder, then, that Farrell’s proposal was cowritten with the American Heart Association–Greater Bay Area.
“We’re really proud San Francisco is taking this step,” Brittni Chicuata, the government relations director for the association, told SFGate on Monday. “It’s part of their continued efforts to make the healthy choice the easy choice across the city.”
Montejano said Farrell will introduce the legislation during a session on Tuesday afternoon. The supervisor’s office “expects this proposal to pass with strong support. The board has shown a really strong record of supporting regulations that make the lives of residents healthier,” said Montejano.
If the legislation passes, vendors would be asked to put healthier options in machines as contracts come up for renewal—a process that happens on a rolling basis. But it might not be too tough for vendors to install healthier options. “We see a lot of movement in the private sector. They know that consumers are wanting healthier options, so they are correcting to market demand,” said Montejano.